While not a true supporter but rather a keen follower of Stoke’s results, I feel duty bound to praise the Potters for a remarkable first half of the season, as it looks like nobody else outside the city is going to!
Most Stoke fans’ hearts sank when it was announced that Pulis was coming back last year, a Pulis whose previous tenure at the club showed his only merchandise to be hard-fought 0-0 and 1-0 scorelines. There was much despair and gnashing of teeth amongst the Stoke faithful. However, Pulis has proved a lot of people wrong by expanding his range of stock to include exciting six goal thrillers, occasional thrashings, dramatic comebacks and a team scoring in every half at the moment and having scored 23 goals in 13 away games.
More remarkable still, is that this is a team with no big names or multi-million pound players; unlike many Championship sides, flailing around in mid-table. This is a side with one of the lowest wage bills and transfer values, but Pulis has instilled in them a belief and team-spirit that is unrivalled in the league at the moment. It is a great advert for football that such a bunch of players is flourishing against teams comprised of whinging over-paid prima donnas.
Perplexingly, the media and other managers and fans have nothing good to say about the Stoke side. Opposing team’s managers can only say ‘Stoke are a big physical side’ and that’s about it. Bryan Robson surely wins the Pot calling the kettle black award 2007 for a laughable comment that watching Stoke was like watching Wimbledon in the eighties. Bryan, keep up, you manage Sheffield Utd now! I guess he can be forgiven his sour grapes as Stoke went 3-0 up in inside 18 minutes at Bramall Lane, comfortably beating the recent Premiership side.
After Stoke beat table topping free-scoring West Brom 3-1, with WBA’s one being a consolation, there was still only talk of Stoke’s big physical presence. No mention of Fuller’s wonder goal, where he picked the ball up on the left side, quite a distance out before effortlessly rounding about £10M of defenders before slotting the ball home – a goal of the season contender surely, if scored by any other side.
I can’t get my head round these repeated accusations of the Potters being a big physical direct side. Well I never! Hold the back page! A direct physical side in the Championship? You are joking! This is the same championship we’re talking about, isn’t it? I’ve watched a considerable amount of Championship football in recent years and this description pretty much described nearly every team I saw. And the last time I looked I don’t think it had changed into a paragon of non-contact football with exquisite passing, the ball never going above head height.
I’ve been struggling to work out why it is Stoke City get no credit for their achievements. It is because, like the City itself, the Potters are bullied. They are the geeky kid at school whom everybody called names and picked on so that they themsleves might feel better. Woe betide anyone who stick up for the kid in case they get tarred with the same brush or considered uncool by association. Stoke are like that bullied kid, and with their current success it is like this kid getting picked for the school football team.
All the other ‘cool’ team-mates look at each other in fear and confusion, not knowing how to act. So they criticise and point out all the faults, because they can’t bear the fact that someone unfashionable might be better than them, that someone unfancied might be daring to enter a place they feel is rightfully theirs.
So this is me sticking up for the Potters. I will gladly risk being uncool by association for sticking up for the small kid whose clothes may not be from some designer outlet. They deserve praise. Pulis deserves praise for showing his is not a one trick pony and has considerable nous in the transfer market. That he has done all this amidst a backdrop of pure hatred from a section of Stoke fans that he is slowly but surely managing to turn around.
That all the media and opposing team managers can think of to criticise is that Stoke are big and physical is quite frankly pathetic, sanctimonious and ultimately hypocritical. It is like accusing a premiership team of being full of foreign players. Well I think it’s brilliant to see them where they are, a team riding high on teamwork and spirit and no lack of skill, on a budget. This is in the true spirit of football and I for one wish them an automatic place in the Premiership – they deserve it.